Alternative Techniques in the Garden

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Since I have become a Master Gardener, I have been occasionally asked to speak to garden groups. They are curious to know how a blind person can garden. Fortunately, there are not a lot of alternative techniques involved. Hard work, good knowledge, planting the right things in the right areas, soil preparation, correct watering, and harvesting in a timely manner are just as important aspects of gardening as any special tools or techniques I use.

I do bring along a couple of tools. One of my most valuable tools is a Braille yardstick. They are available from Aids and Devices at the Department, are inexpensive, and quite durable. I have had mine for several years; it is beaten up and ugly from use. Of course, it has Braille numbers. But it also has raised lines of varying lengths for those who are newly blinded and just learning Braille.

Another tool I bring is my hoe without a handle. Standing up to hoe does me no good, as I can’t see what I am doing. So, I hoe on my hands and knees. This type of tool can be adapted for many gardeners who may have trouble standing for whatever reason. I got it from a driver who broke it off while hoeing. It is rusty and ugly from use, but so be it.

I also use Braille markers. I purchase inexpensive wooden markers that look like Popsicle sticks, make a label with dymo tape, and place it on the marker. These have proven to be quite temporary, and unfortunately, are too easy to move. Therefore, when spring comes, I oftentimes find that what I have marked last fall is no longer there. My wife, who is sighted, uses visual labels; she encounters the same problem. A case in point is a yellow peony which I purchased last spring. Unfortunately, its markers have disappeared, and we are not sure if it is up or not. I have raised peonies for years, and know their leaf form well. It appears that it may be breaking the ground, but the leaves feel finer, and the stems are not a stout as regular peony stems. So, the jury is still out. I’ll be visiting greenhouses soon, and the place I purchased this peony is on my list. I’ll know more in two weeks, and can judge accordingly.

My most frequently asked question is “how do you tell the plants from the weeds?” It depends. I have been involved in gardening, in some capacity or other, for about 60 years now, and have always gardened by touch. Some weeds are familiar–dandelions, Canadian thistles and clover are prime examples. Some wanted plants are also obvious from experience–corn, green beans, peas, radishes and lettuce. Carrots and parsnips are the toughest ones. I once asked my Mom how she can tell the carrots from the weeds when they are small and she replied “you tell me and we’ll both know.” So, like Mom, I let the carrots and weeds grow together until they are big enough to tell apart. I have also heard to plant radishes and carrots together to solve this problem. I’ve never tried it. Container gardening, which is now all the rage, also makes this separation question easier. I am a fan, and have lots of containers for gardening.

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